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Libs must recapture home ground

By Concetta Fierravanti-Wells - posted Thursday, 27 December 2007

In the lead-up to last month's federal election, Kevin Rudd bombarded the Australian people with his so-called economic and social conservative ideals. Indeed, this election saw mainstream conservatism take centre stage. We in the Liberal Party allowed the Labor leader and his party to reinvent themselves as a conservative political force.

"Me too-ism" was really about Labor needing to recapture the ground that John Howard had converted over the years. The challenge for us Liberals now is how to keep the party of Robert Menzies holding its mainstream centre-right base, rather than forfeiting its traditional conservative values to Labor.

Many commentators have regularly sought to portray those holding social conservative and religious values as "extremist", but only, of course, where they were held by members of the Liberal Party, especially in New South Wales.


Ironically, the same commentariat had no compunction in reporting that Rudd was "getting on with business after attending church" the morning after election day. It appears OK for Rudd to be socially conservative and go to church on Sunday, but Liberals who do so are painted as "right-wing extremists".

After our defeat, we must now, more than ever, resist the urge to jettison our beliefs and allow the Labor Party to stake its claim on our mainstream values and beliefs. Indeed, the very fact that Rudd adopted so many of our policies meant that they were good policies which resonated with mainstream Australia.

Many of these policies are founded on the mainstream conservative ideology of just reward for effort, of enterprise and hard work, of aspiration and achievement and of a hand up, rather than a handout: Work for the Dole, for example.

Since its introduction in 1997, almost 600,000 unemployed Australians were afforded valuable work experience by participating in almost 35,000 activities nationally to help them re-enter the workforce. The most important security for working families or for any individual is the dignity of a job.

Since 1996, we have also seen a resurgence of mainstream conservatism in the Liberal Party itself. Howard often talked about the party as a broad church with its conservative and liberal philosophies. While this may be the case, it is clear that the party's strength in numbers was by far greater on the conservative side. The increase in membership, especially in Howard's home state of NSW, is a reflection of this.

Australians are traditionally conservative. More people joined the Liberal Party because they felt that they had a leader in Howard that reflected the mainstream conservatism they believed in. More voters supported Howard because they felt comfortable with his brand of conservatism.


Hence, for Rudd to succeed, he had to make sure that Australians felt comfortable with his brand of conservatism: a brand he borrowed from Howard. No doubt the phrase would have been well and truly road tested with a focus group before Rudd felt comfortable enough to use it.

As Howard said on election night, the Coalition leaves Australia prouder, stronger and more prosperous than when it took office in 1996.

It is now up to the Coalition in opposition to hold the union-dominated Rudd Government accountable.

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First published in The Australian on December 19, 2007.

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About the Author

Concetta Fierravanti-Wells is a Liberal senator for NSW.

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